The Journal of Economic History


The Local Economic Effects of Public Housing in the United States, 1940–1970

Katharine L. Shester

Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450. E-mail:


Between 1933 and 1973 the federal government funded the construction of over 1 million units of low-rent housing. Using county-level data, I find that communities with high densities of public housing had lower median family income, lower median property values, lower population density, and a higher percentage of families with low income in 1970. However, I find no negative effects of public housing in 1950 or 1960, implying that long-run negative effects only became apparent in the 1960s. The effects found in 1970 are partially due to a decline in human capital.


  The author gratefully acknowledges helpful insights from the editor Paul Rhode, two anonymous referees, William J. Collins, Samuel K. Allen, Jeremy Atack, George Ehrhardt, Daniel Fetter, Price Fishback, Malcolm Getz, Arthur H. Goldsmith, A. Joseph Guse, Cindy Kam, Gregory T. Niemesh, Edgar O. Olsen, John J. Siegfried, and Helen Yang; and suggestions from seminar participants at the Southern Economic Association Meetings (2011), the Appalachian Spring World History and Economics Conference (2012), the Cliometrics Conference (2012), Yale University (2012), the Washington Area Economic History Group (2012), and Washington and Lee University (2012). Part of this research was supported by Vanderbilt University's Social Science Dissertation Fellowship and by Washington and Lee University's Lenfest Summer Grant.